Palms Away in Bay


There are signs that an ambitious, federally-funded streetscape project in downtown Bay St. Louis — also coming to be known among political observers as “Dunbar Palms” – is turning into a search for the guilty party.

Citizens and members of the City Council alike want to know who decided to place more than three dozen palm trees that have been planted close together along Dunbar Avenue as part of the streetscape. So tenuous is their positioning that many of the trees, each about 20 feet tall, had to be propped up with boards.

At McDonald Field alone, crews have planted 24 palm trees. Nine of them were moved there last week after first being planted on private property belonging to the streetscape project manager, Allison Anderson.

Some of the 43 palm trees that have amazed Bay St. Louis residents since popping up along Dunbar Avenue as part of a federally-funded downtown streetscape project.

Mayor Les Fillingame said that was a mistake on the part of a contractor, and that many of the Dunbar palms probably would eventually be moved elsewhere. However, the project contractor later told the Sea Coast Echo that he was directed on where to place the trees.

Two clumps of the trees are planted nearly in the street at the Ulman and Carroll Avenue ends of McDonald Field, making it difficult for motorists to see stop signs.

The streetscape is a hurricane recovery project being funded through federal Community Development Block Grants. The project’s original cost was listed as $2.9 million.

In total, between Ulman Avenue and State Street, the city has planted 43 of the monster palms along Dunbar. Many stand only feet apart.

“Who’s the arborist on this project?” City Council President Doug Seal asked at a Monday night workshop. “We’d like for them to come explain it to us.”

City resident Tanya Taylor told the City Council that the trees planted practically on the roadway at Dunbar and Ulman constitute a traffic hazard and are obscuring stop signs.

“I just think it’s a little too much,” she said.
Councilman Bill Taylor, who has been known to crack a joke or two, said there are so many palm trees along Dunbar that he spotted a famous deceased Hawaiian singer at McDonald Field.

“I got an autograph done there the other day,” Taylor said. “Don Ho was there.”

Seal also questioned dozens of other trees, including small oaks, that had been planted on Ulman Avenue next to new sidewalks and street lights. That alarmed both the
Fillingame administration and members of the public, who predicted that root systems from the trees would eventually buckle sidewalks and streets alike.

“Why was it planted this way?” Seal said.

Fillingame recently said those trees were ordered removed. But the palms remain.

Monday night, the mayor told Seal that he, too, was upset with those responsible for the plantings. Fillingame promised to have a project arborist appear before the City Council when it meets again in May, but he did not name anyone.

“We’ve been grilling them for the last four weeks,” he said.

He added that some of the palm trees would be moved soon, probably to the Commagere ball field at St. Francis Street and Old Spanish Trail.

Katherine Ohman, a former landscape designer who has been volunteering on the streetscapes project, said Tuesday that “multiple professionals” have worked on the tree placements.

“There was some misplanting of species,” she said. “Relocations were made immediately.”

She added that concerns about the project “are warranted.” However, she added,”Try to give us a little time, and things will be okay.”

As for the Dunbar palms, Ohman said, “They’re going to remain there until someone says otherwise.”

BY J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo


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